Around this time of the summer—early August, when I hear the crickets or whatever they are out there chirping away in the dark–I am struck with nostalgia for the South, or more particularly, my Southern childhood. What we heard at home at night, lying in the Pawley’s Island hammock on the big screen porch at the cabin near Table Rock State Park, in Upper South Carolina, were katydids. Deafening, probably in the 90 decibel range, not like these wimpy crickets around here. And we had abundant lightning bugs, which I don’t see anymore. Maybe we’re too far north, maybe it’s the city lights, or maybe lightning bugs haven’t fared well with mosquito spraying.
I usually get the urge to fry a chicken around this time of summer. I posted about frying a chicken a year ago (http://paulettealden.com/2011/08/). But so far I haven’t fried a chicken this summer. It’s been so hot in Minnesota, hotter than usual; global warming. Plus I keep thinking I’ll be wearing that fried chicken the next day, which is not a pleasing thought.
We used to make fresh peach ice cream every summer at the cabin. The peaches were perfection, as only a South Carolina peach can be. Mother would make a concoction of peaches, cream and sugar, and pour it into the metal canister of the ice cream maker. Daddy would set the canister in the ice cream bucket and fill the sides around it with ice and rock salt. Then the men—there were always a lot of friends and relatives at the cabin when we’d make peach ice cream–would take turns churning the hand crank, which went around more and more slowly, getting harder… and harder….. to turn, as the ice cream thickened into an incredibly sweet, creamy, delicately peachy treat. I will not taste its like again!
Nowadays people make ice cream in electric ice cream makers. I would never do that. I have stooped as low as I can go by buying New Jersey peaches.
Two of the people often at our cabin in the summer were Aunt Grace and Uncle Perry. Perry was a doctor and my father’s brother. They were a huge part of our lives growing up.
They didn’t have any children and so took a special interest in Betty and me. Aunt Grace had had three or four miscarriages, which were never discussed. Uncle Perry, it was said, didn’t want to adopt. Growing up, I never gave a thought to their not having children. They seemed complete in and of themselves. It was only when Jeff and I did not have children that I thought about it. We had turned out to be more like Aunt Grace and Uncle Perry than like our own parents.
Sometimes Aunt Grace would tell me some little story about me as a child, something my own mother never did. I figured Mother had been too much in the trenches trying to raise Betty and me to enjoy us exactly. But Aunt Grace, on the sidelines, had affectionate anecdotes to pass along. One story: me calling up when I was nine or ten: “Aint Grace! I’ve got something for you! A kitten! And in a year you’ll have a hundred more!” It was my very selling point that made Aunt Grace decline. She told me about the time she was babysitting us and how my sister Betty, the unfortunate firstborn child who tried so hard to be good, had come running in alarm to tell Aunt Grace that I was picking the tulips! I was about three, and had been told not to, of course. But I would pick those tulips. I recognize in this story a certain willfulness that is still with me today. I’m still willing to pick an occasional tulip.
Aunt Grace was a real beauty, not only in her youth but on into her eighties. For the last maybe thirty years of her life her hair was silver. Perhaps because of her hair, but more because of how she was, she reminded me of silver, that precious metal. She had jet black eyebrows that accented her gray-green eyes, a face with good bone structure, and fine, even features. Her limbs were long and elegant, and she always wore expensive shoes in the narrowest width, quads. She’d cross her long thin legs and dangle a shoe off her slender foot, shaking it a little. She smoked, something my uncle Perry didn’t approve of. When she finally quit, after many failed attempts, she retained the husky voice of a smoker.
Aunt Grace was a good cook but not great. She didn’t put as much effort into cooking as our mother did. Maybe it had to do with there just being the two of them. She could turn out a perfectly acceptable Thanksgiving dinner when it was her turn to have us all over. She wasn’t lazy exactly, but neither was she industrious like Mother. She seemed laid back, more interested in smoking and shaking her slender foot while she read romance novels, which we had never seen in our house. We girls sensed that there was something adult, private, and not quite proper about them to which we were not privy. They gave an added, unknown dimension to Aunt Grace, one I wasn’t sure what to make of.
She led a life somewhat similar to our mother’s – going to bridge parties, circle at the church, cocktail parties, dances at the country club (where we didn’t belong). But we recognized that she was different from our mother. Mother was so busy all the time being our mother. Was it a tragedy that Aunt Grace didn’t have children, in that time and place when having children defined the lives of women like my mother and Aunt Grace? I’ve thought about it and I can’t say I know. Her life was private, her feelings her own. One thing I do know is that Uncle Perry adored her. He called her Gracie. And she adored him, from what we could tell. It seems to me now that they remained in love through the years, and actually had sex. Our parents loved each other, were good partners, good parents–but that’s different.
Aunt Grace’s Easy Peach Pie
Peaches, peeled slightly sweetened
1 cup flour
½ cup sugar
½ stick of oleo or butter
1 egg [written in as an afterthought on the side]
Combine the last 3 [3 crossed out and 4 written over it when she remembered the egg] ingredients. Place peaches in [can’t read—probably pan or dish] and put topping over. Cook at 350 degrees for 30 or 35 minutes. Serve with ice cream or cool whip. Serves 4.
My note: It’s really a cobbler. I usually add some nutmeg. I also make it using blueberries, or a mixture of fruit. Read a romance novel while it bakes. Cross your legs, shake your foot, dangle your shoe, think about a kiss that takes your breath away….